Warren Haynes make his Freaks Ball debut (above). Photo by Dino Perrucci
The members of the NYC-Freaks Yahoo! Group hosted their 12th annual Freaks Ball at Brooklyn, NY’s Brooklyn Bowl this past week. For the first time, the industry and scenester-heavy event expanded into a two-day affair: Friday’s festivities focused on more indie-leaning music while Saturday’s lineup featured more core members of the NYC-Freaks community.
After selling out New York’s far larger Terminal 5 in the fall, Alaskan psych-rock group Portugal. the Man crammed
into the Bowl on Friday night for their first Freaks Ball appearance (the group is a current favorite of Freaks founder Aaron Stein and were in New York for a Pandora event at Bowery Ballroom). Like most of their recent shows, the group dotted their setlist with a mix of covers ranging from David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” to The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” (the latter song was particularly memorable since James passed away earlier in the day). Given the setting, Portugal. the Man played a particularly loose and groovy set; they also invited the members of Morning Teleportation—who are in New York working on an album—out to sit in on keyboards and percussion at various points during their show.
The show’s opening act, the indie rock group Sam Champion, has some slightly deeper roots to the Freaks Ball: drummer Ryan Thornton played a number of Freaks Balls as member of RANA and frontman Noah Chernin sat in with that group at the Freaks Ball nearly in 2003 when he was their tour manager. Friday night’s Freaks Ball was Sam Champion’s first pubic show since late 2009, and bassist Jack Dolgen flew in from his current LA home for the gig.
In contrast, almost all the acts on Saturday’s bill had performed at the Freaks Ball in years past. The show kicked off with a first-time pairing of guitarist Scott Metzger (RANA/Bustle in Your Hedgerow/Wolf!), drummer Joe Russo (Furthur/The Duo/Bustle), keyboardist Eric Deutsch (Fat Mama, Charlie Hunter) and Hagar Ben-Ari (Dap-Kings). The set was Metzger’s 10th consecutive appearance at the Freaks Ball and Russo’s eighth in ten years. The quartet ran through a boogie-style, largely instrumental set that included takes on Neil Young’s “Dont Let it Bring You Down,” the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” and The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”
After a short break, Russo returned to the stage with a sampling of past Freak Ball performers: his longtime partner Marco Benevento (The Duo, Bustle), bassist Ron Johnson (Warren Haynes Band, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe) and guitarist Eddie Roberts (The New Mastersounds).
Above: Portugal. the Man. Photo by Dino Perrucci
Rising soul singer Alecia Chakour surprised many fans by sitting in for a good portion of the ensemble’s set while previously confirmed guest Eric Krasno sat in for most of the show. Though Benevento and Russo have collaborated in different settings, they have only performed Duo songs together a few times since 2009 (and only once in that time as Benevento/Russo Duo). But the group surprised many by performing Duo originals like “Becky,” “Mephisto” and “Scratchitti” alongside covers such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” The Beatles’ “Something” and Grant Green’s “Ain’t it Funky Now.”
Warren Haynes then emerged to front the group on “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love,” “D’yer Maker,” “Fire on the Mountain” and the weekend’s second take on “I’d Rather Go Blind,” the latter of which was reportedly chosen before James passed away on Friday. As he took the stage, Haynes joked that he “hoped he qualified” for the night. For the evening’s climax, Metzger and Deutsch returned to the stage to join Haynes, Krasno, Roberts, Johnson and The Duo for an all-star take on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The set’s core players then closed the time with an appropriate take on Shel Silverstein’s “Freaking at the Freakers Ball.”
For some video highlights of the Freaks Ball, be sure to visit our sister site Relix.com.
Below: The “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” super jam.